In Buddhism, there is a concept of a restless, unfocused way of thinking called the monkey mind. It refers to the relentless chatter in our head which needs to be “quieted” or “calmed” if we are to become mindful and focused.
Before the pandemic, I lived a fairly peaceful internal life. Practising yoga, following Buddhism (albeit loosely), having structure, routine and a sense of purpose in my everyday life was key to maintaining that sense of mental peace, but it was somewhat tenuous (the monkeys were caged, but the locks were frail and rusty). The pandemic, it’s subsequent lockdown and abrupt end to all of my routines shook up everything in my life and ultimately, freed those monkeys.
Running amok, tossing bananas here and shit there, my monkey mind would swing wildly from task to task, moment to moment, even book to book in my Kindle, only allowing me to focus on a sample here and a page there, until one day I came across an idea so simple, yet so profound, it stopped all the monkeys in their tracks.
In Design Your Day, Claire Diaz-Ortiz explains how deciding upon a word of the year has become a simple, yet powerful tool in her life. “Every year, you should choose a word to represent the year you have in front of you. Think long and hard about one word that will serve as a guidepost for what you want to do and be in the year to come. And remember that a year needn’t start January 1 – you can start your year at any time!”
As a lover of words and finding myself mid-way through May, this sounded exactly like what I needed to do. I spent the next day thinking about my word. The monkeys were a fantastic help in throwing out hundreds of options.
Finally, I decided upon one that felt right. Both positive and representative of what I need to do to (regain focus) and what I want to do (write my memoir), I decided that my word of the year shall be: reflect.
I use it now as a mantra, repeating it to myself whenever the monkeys start swinging around in my head and so far, they seem to like it too, providing me with some much needed calm and quiet so that I can reflect, and ultimately, write again.